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Higher Education Policy Commission OKs tuition increases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The cost of an education is about to go substantially higher at five West Virginia colleges.

The Higher Education Policy Commission approved proposed tuition increases at West Virginia University, West Virginia State University, Fairmont State University, Shepherd University and Bluefield State College at a special meeting Tuesday.

The commission must approve any increase greater than 5 percent for in-state students.  

The average increase for the coming school year will be $380 for an in-state student. That takes the average tuition rate from $5,687 in 2012-13 to $6,067 in 2013-14.

Those increases range from 6 percent - or $366 a year - at WVU to 9 percent - or $490 a year - at West Virginia State.

A slew of other state schools also are raising tuition, but by less than 5 percent. They can do so without commission approval.

State colleges are facing a 9 percent cut in state funding for the next fiscal year - a fact that has left many institutions scrambling to re-evaluate finances.

Commissioners said they strive to resist tuition increases whenever possible. Chairman David Hendrickson said commissioners spent about 10 hours reviewing institutions' proposed budgets for the next fiscal year - a review thorough enough to prove to them that colleges were using the increases only after trimming expenses.

"Everyone took a very hard line on trying to keep (tuition) down as much as possible," Hendrickson said. "There's not any fluff in any of these budgets. ... It's really tight across all institutions."

Vice Chairman Bruce Berry said when commissioners were presented with the budgets this time around, "it was the first time (he) felt like it wasn't boilerplate."

"They could show areas where the fiscal restraints had definitely made a difference within the institution and why they were requesting the increase with tuition and fees," Berry said. "I'm usually one of the ones who votes against tuition raises, but they made a very compelling argument this year."

Kay Goodwin, secretary of education and the arts, and state Superintendent Jim Phares voted "no" on the increases.

Goodwin said her vote was related to the increasing prevalence of student loans at colleges across the state and country - and students' increasing inability to pay off those loans.

"I think that in the very near future we're going to see some of these institutions failing because of their loan default rate," she said. "I'll be voting no, but I'm well aware of the fiscal measures the institutions took."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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